• James McGee

Sunday in the valley....

A cracking afternoon spent at the Chalke Valley History Festival. Glorious weather in a glorious setting.

Managed to get there in time to have a chat with my old (well, not that old...he's younger than I am, for God's sake) boss, James Heneage, who was on stage talking about the background to his new novel - By Blood Divided - volume four of the Mistra Chronicles, set in the time of the Ottoman Empire.

As well as James' talk, there was lots to see and do, as you can tell from some of the attached photos (I do not claim credit for all of them, some of which are stills from the catch-up videos on the CVHF website, which is well worth a visit to see what you missed if you were unable to attend this year).

I ended the afternoon listening to Don McCullin in conversation with the journalist and former newspaper editor Max Hastings who were there to discuss Sir Don's career as one of the greatest war photographers of our time. The topics ranged from Don's tough childhood to his forays into the world's major trouble spots, from Cyprus to Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Syria and just about any other place you care to mention that has been engaged in conflict during the past six decades, with the exception - much to Don's dismay - of the Falklands, where, ironically, Sir Max filed some of his best reports.

The discussion was enhanced by the showing of a wide selection of Don's photographs, a good many of which, by the nature of their content, were extremely graphic and not for the squeamish.

I'd taken along my edition of Sir Don's autobiography - Unreasonable Behaviour - which I've been nursing for the past 27 years in the hope of one day getting it signed.

It's taken a while but it was worth the wait. A great privilege to meet and shake the hand of one of my heroes.

When I arrived home I was struck by one of those questions we sometimes ask each other: if your house was about to be demolished by some unforeseen catastrophe, what are the items you'd try and save, beyond family mementos?

It occurred to me that three of them would be books. One would definitely be the signed copy above and the others would be, by a twist of happenstance, a couple of paperbacks that were signed by one of the 20th century's greatest war correspondents, Martha Gellhorn.

It was back in 1993, by which time she would have been 85 years old, when I sent copies of her books A View from the Ground and The Face of War to her publisher, Granta. They forwarded the books to Martha who very kindly signed them for me. She also included a note which knocked me for six.

I've included an image here.